Food Additives & Their Impact on Our Health: Part 1 of 2

Our food supply contains a lot of food additive that are GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), yet research can indicate otherwise.

What we eat can contribute to, or even cause allergy issues, such as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, aggravate hyperactivity, and some ingredients are considered carcinogenic, genotoxic, or endocrine disruptors. Choosing organic whole foods and unprocessed, or minimally processed foods, is a guideline that should be followed to yield the most benefit and the least amount of harm from your diet.

Artificial Preservatives:

  • Nitrites & Nitrates

    • Believed to increase risk for colorectal cancer
    • The formation of Nitrosamines from nitrites is likely the real issue!
    • Nitrates convert to nitrites in our gut and in the presence of amines further reduce to nitrosamines, the offending agent
    • Added to cured meats such as salami, deli meats, hot dogs, ham & bacon. Due to the amine content of meat, the nitrites reduce to nitrosamines.
    • Found in polluted drinking water
    • Also found naturally in vegetables! Yet, vegetables contain constituents, such as carotenoids, minerals & vitamins, that inhibit the formation of nitrosamines.
    • Vitamin C and sulfur dioxide are used to inhibit nitrosamine formation in foods; Vitamin C can have a protective effect against colon cancer


  • Benzoate

    • Most commonly in soda pop/fizzy drinks, salad dressings, pickles
    • When combined with citric acid or vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can form benzene, a known carcinogen
    • Link between benzoate & hyperactivity in children
    • Link between benzoate (as well as sulfites, sometimes salicylates) and allergic rashes; can be a contributor to MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome)
    • Look for ingredients named “benzoic acid”, “benzene”, “sodium benzoate”, and especially avoid if the product also contains in combination “citric acid”, ascorbic acid”, or “vitamin C”


  • Propyl Paraben

    • Typically found in conventional tortillas, muffins and food dyes
    • Is a recognized endocrine disruptor. 


  • Butylhydroxyanisole (BHA)

    • Found in conventional baked goods such as bread, biscuits
    • Classified as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program


  • Butylhydroxytoluene (BHT)

    • Found in chewing gum and oils to help prevent rancidity
    • One study linked BHT to less atherosclerosis in animal models
    • Another demonstrated that BHT enhanced tumor formation in the lungs, liver, & GI tract of animal models exposed to carcinogens
    • Other studies have shown BHT to cause cancer in animals.


  • Potassium Bromate

    • Mostly found in baked goods, pizza crusts as a dough strengthener/oxidizing agent
    • Carcinogenic & Nephrotoxic (toxic to kidneys)
    • Banned or not allowed for use in Canada, UK, Brazil & the European Union. Requires warning label in California under Prop 65


  • Aluminum additives

    • Such as sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate
    • Used as stabilizers in many processed foods
    • Aluminum accumulates & persists in the body, especially in bone
    • Linked to neurotoxicity (brain toxicity, Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases)


  • Carrageenan

    • Extracted from red seaweed and found in many dairy and dairy alternative products
    • Thickener & emulsifier
    • Contributes to inflammation
    • Linked in some studies to ulcerations and cancers in the GI tract


  • Titanium Dioxide

    • Added to foods to help provide a creamy texture
    • Nanoparticles of titanium dioxide linked to neurodegeneration, respiratory issues, and possibly carcinogenic


  • Diacetyl

    • Used in Butter flavoring in microwave popcorn, yogurt & cheese flavorings, butterscotch & maple flavorings
    • Associated with Bronchiolitis Obliterans aka “Popcorn Lung”, a severe respiratory condition (mostly found just in those who worked in a microwave popcorn factory)


  • Phosphates

    • Used to leaven baked goods and as a humectant in processed meats.
    • Frequently added to unhealthy highly processed foods, including fast foods. 
    • In people with chronic kidney disease, high phosphate levels in the body are associated with heart disease and death 
    • Phosphoric acid is often in soda & reduces teeth enamel, as well as linked to low bone density and kidney disease


Better Preservatives:

  • Vitamin E (tocopherols)
  • Celery Seed
  • Rosemary
  • Spices
  • Salt

Food Dye/Colorings:

  • FD&C colors

    • FD&C Blue No. 1
    • FD&C Blue No. 2
    • FD&C Green No. 3
    • FD&C Red No. 3
    • FD&C Red No. 40
    • FD&C Yellow No. 5
    • FD&C Yellow No. 6
  • Caramel Color III and IV

    • A chemical compound, 4 methylimidazole (4-MEI), is a byproduct formed during manufacturing of caramel colorings class III & IV.
    • Most often in dark soda pop and other beverages
    • 4-MEI is a byproduct of roasting; it also occurs in coffee and soy sauce
    • limited evidence towards carcinogenicity with consuming large amounts of 4-MEI containing products; the jury’s still out! (but really, there’s many reasons to stay away from soda…)
    • 4-MEI is included on California’s Prop 65 list
  • Citrus Red 2

    • Used to color peels of Florida oranges; It is NOT allowed to be used in California oranges

“Food Additives & Their Impact on Our Health” Part 2 will cover artificial sweeteners, flavorings, and more.


A brief note on research studies:

Be aware that studies can have flawed methodologies and/or be biased. The most widely accepted research is from well-designed studies called RCTs (Randomized Control Studies) and from Meta Analyses or Systematic reviews; although case studies can be helpful in those situations where larger studies were not possible. The more participants (“n”) in the study the better, and the statistical significance (“p value”) should be ≤ 0.05.



There is conflicting information for almost every single item listed in this article. I used the best of my ability to confer an intelligent viewpoint in summary form, although others may draw differing conclusions.



Miller PE, Lazarus P, LeskoSM, et al. Meat-related compounds and colorectal cancer risk by anatomical subsite. Nutr Cancer. 2013;65(2):202-26.


Van hecke T, VossenE, Hemeryck LY, Vandenbussche J, Vanhaecke L, De smet S. Increased oxidative and nitrosative reactions during digestion could contribute to the association between well-done red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. Food Chem. 2015;187:29-36.


Dellavalle CT, Xiao Q, Yang G, et al. Dietary nitrate and nitrite intake and risk of colorectal cancer in the Shanghai Women’s Health Study. Int J Cancer. 2014;134(12):2917-26.


Björkhem I, Henriksson-freyschuss A, Breuer O, Diczfalusy U, Berglund L, Henriksson P. The antioxidant butylated hydroxytoluene protects against atherosclerosis. Arterioscler Thromb. 1991;11(1):15-22


Botterweck AA, VerhagenH, Goldbohm RA, Kleinjans J, Van den brandt PA. Intake of butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene and stomach cancer risk: results from analyses in the Netherlands Cohort Study. Food Chem Toxicol. 2000;38(7):599-605.


WitschiHP. Enhanced tumour development by butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) in the liver, lung and gastrointestinal tract. Food Chem Toxicol. 1986;24(10-11):1127-30.


Michaëlsson G, Juhlin L. Urticaria induced by preservatives and dye additives in food and drugs. Br J Dermatol. 1973;88(6):525-32.


Bateman B, Warner JO, Hutchinson E, et al. The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. Arch Dis Child. 2004;89(6):506-11.